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State clinic: Abortion rates 'steady;' 1 in 10 from out of state

Kristi L. Nelson, The Knoxville News-Sentinel • Dec 17, 2015 at 5:59 PM

KNOXVILLE (MCT) – A decline in abortion rates because there are fewer unintended pregnancies "is what we all want to see," said Corinne Rovetti, co-director of Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health.

But numbers don't always show nuances, she said.

While state Department of Health statistics indicate a steady decline in the number of abortions performed statewide, KCRH's numbers had been flat over the past decade, Rovetti said, until Knoxville's only other surgical abortion provider closed in August 2012.

KCRH, which also provides gynecological and family planning services, performs around 1,500-1,600 surgical abortions a year, she said, it saw an increase of about 300 after Volunteer Women's Medical Clinic on Concord Street closed. About half the women seeking abortions there are 18-25 years old, she said, but many are older women who already have children. The total number of abortions performed in Knoxville is probably "down a little bit," Rovetti said.

Rovetti said some of the decline – also reported by abortion-rights nonprofit the Guttmacher Institute, which says Tennessee's abortion rate dropped 15 percent between 2008-2011 – could be explained by more women using longer-acting types of birth control, such as implants and IUDs, which have much lower "fail" rates than pills or condoms. The Guttmacher Institute reported that between 2002-2009, the percentage of women using such longer-acting types of birth control rose from 2 percent to 9 percent.

It could also be that fewer people can afford abortions, she said, or can access them.

"A lot of times, it's speculation" on why rates change, she said.

About one in 10 women seeking abortions at KCRH are from out of state, Rovetti said, many from Kentucky. That number has increased as other states have implemented more restrictions governing abortion, she said. Since 2011, 38 providers nationwide have closed, she said.

"Women will go where they need to go if they cannot receive services," Rovetti said. "Women put themselves in difficult and dangerous situations. ... (Legislation) doesn't stop abortion; it just makes it more dangerous."

According to the Guttmacher Institute, Tennessee accounted for 1.6 percent of all abortions performed in the U.S. in 2011.

The next closest surgical abortion provider to KCRH is Bristol Regional Women's Center, in Bristol, Tenn. The owners of that clinic also operate a Nashville clinic that provides surgical abortions.

"Unfortunately, we will always need these services," Rovetti said. "Do we want to send our Tennessee women out of state?"

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